By  on November 17, 2009

Tobi, a small boutique in San Francisco, is the first to use a virtual dressing room that could appeal to larger retailers looking for new ways to attract and entertain shoppers.

To use the technology, called Fashionista, a woman stands in front of her camera-equipped laptop or desktop computer and her image appears on the screen. She can then choose items to “try on” by pointing to icons on the screen. A top or dress will appear to be superimposed over her body, and she can click whether she likes it or not. The software doesn’t simulate fit, but if the style looks good, the shopper can snap a photo and send it to a friend or her Facebook page. The dressing room automatically suggests other items she might like. A future version will let two women shop side by side on screen, even if they are miles apart.

Tobi brings in revenues of about $10 million a year from both its San Francisco contemporary boutique and its Web store. It plans to launch the virtual dressing room today.

“Our mission has always been to provide a more personalized shopping experience, and we’re always looking for new innovative and engaging ways to improve on that experience,” said Tobi vice president of technology Jeff Lee. “With Fashionista, not only could it possibly help customers answer, ‘How does this look on me?’, it’s also a fun and engaging way to help them discover new products that they wouldn’t have found through the normal shopping experience.”

Tobi also offers personal shopping advice via online chats during business hours.

Fashionista was developed by interactive agency Zugara and software maker RichRelevance. RichRelevance’s software suggests additional items a customer might like. For example, if a shopper is looking at peacoats, the software will show other peacoats as well as coordinating items such as pants, based on what other shoppers who looked at the same items have browsed and bought. The suggestions can appear on a home page, product page, checkout, in e-mail and other locations.

Sales lifts of 5 to 30 percent are typical, said RichRelevance chief executive officer David Selinger. When added recommendations from RichRelevance, average order value increased by 15 to 26 percent, depending on the week.

Other RichRelevance customers include Sears, Kmart and Wal-Mart. RichRelevance charges a monthly fee based on sales it drives, and Zugara charges a yearly licensing fee. Integration takes four to six weeks. Companies can use their regular product data feed, including clothes shot on models who can be cropped out.

Virtual dressing rooms are not new, but usually they simulate the user’s size with an avatar.

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